By Tom Venzor
“I know this bill will allow for more students with similar stories as mine to have a choice in their education, a choice that could change their lives.”
These were Jacob Idra’s closing remarks during last week’s Revenue Committee hearing on LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, a legislative bill providing more private education choice for low-income and working-class families in Nebraska.
Jacob is a freshman at Creighton University. When he’s not lighting up a room with his smile and his fashionable attire, he’s studying business. But his story begins long before Creighton University. His story begins in Africa.
When Jacob was around 3 years old, he and his family departed Africa as refugees. They were on exodus, bound for the “land of the free”—in search of opportunity and new beginnings. Though the final moments in their motherland were filled with emotion and tears, Jacob was reassured by the love of his father’s words: “Everything will be okay.”
Awaiting Jacob’s arrival in the United States was the blessing of a Catholic education. Jacob eventually enrolled in elementary school at All Saints Catholic School in Omaha and was accepted into high school at Mount Michael Benedictine School in Elkhorn. While Jacob’s parents worked tirelessly to make All Saints and Mount Michael an option for Jacob, they were also blessed by scholarship opportunities.
Despite the generous scholarship opportunity at Mount Michael, Jacob wished to transfer to public school during his freshman year of high school. He desired to join his friend at Omaha South High School, in hopes of pursuing a basketball state championship... but also in hopes of eliminating the financial burden of his private education.
To this, Jacob’s father responded with words he repeated countless times before to Jacob: “Ny tha asci sookeru ga” (meaning: “Keep your focus on school”). He reminded Jacob that money was not life’s defining factor and that he brought him to America to provide him with the best possible education.
While I had never met Jacob’s father until the day of the public hearing, I knew Jacob’s father. I had seen Jacob’s father many times before, in and through my own father. Jacob’s father is a man who observes the world in silence. If spoken to, he speaks few words. Perhaps in part because his English isn’t the greatest, but mostly because he observes the world in thanksgiving and admiration. And that admiration takes on full life when directed at his son. His world hinges on somebody other than himself. His life, you might say, is defined by sacrifice and creating opportunity for his son.
Ensuring Jacob had the right education was at the essence of his father’s journey to America. And Jacob knew this.
Jacob continued his education at Mount Michael. And, coming full circle, is in his second semester at Creighton University—once again, blessed by scholarship opportunities.
Though Jacob has an incredible story to tell, he knows many other students in Nebraska unfortunately lack the same opportunities he has received. He knows not every student has been blessed with a scholarship to attend a private or parochial school. He knows the financial assistance is insufficient to meet the demand of all the kids knocking on the doors of private and parochial schools across Nebraska.
This is why Jacob made the journey to Lincoln. He came to speak for those students “who are less fortunate” and want more educational opportunity, because education is “our one-way ticket out of the struggle and into a better life.” He came to make his case why Nebraska needs to invest in kids by adopting scholarship tax credit legislation, which would financially incentivize more scholarship opportunity for low-income and working-class students to get into a school best suited for their educational needs.
Now, the opportunity is ours. It is our moment to make our case to our state legislative lawmakers. It is our time to raise our voices on behalf of those less fortunate. It is our chance to live out the call of Matthew 25. Don’t wait—act!
To learn more about LB670 and scholarship tax credit legislation, visit www.necatholic.org. There you can find basic information about the legislation and how to contact your state senator and ask for their support of LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. God bless your efforts!